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Mar 18, 2008 | 3 minute read

Tracking Affiliate Orders For Telephone Sales

written by Linda Bustos

Tracking Affiliate SalesA major tick-off for affiliate marketers is merchants who prominently display a toll-free number on their websites or banner ads. If a customer decides to pick up the phone to place the order – the affiliate is not credited with the sale unless proper telephone tracking is used. This is called “leakage.”

Some merchants only show the toll-free number on the contact page or in the checkout process itself, nevertheless it’s a leakage opportunity.

High ticket items and B2B supply or software purchases are often completed over the phone, meaning hard working affiliate partners lose their commissions. Good affiliate programs should be ensure that commissions will be paid where commissions are due.

But how can you effectively track telephone conversions driven by affiliate marketers?

Tracking Telephone Affiliate Sales

1. Display Affiliate Tracking Number with Cookies

Merchants can use cookies to show customers an affiliate ID number which they can provide the customer service representative when calling in an order. For example:

1-800-555-5555 Reference Code: AB-123

This can be achieved with JavaScript. You could program this yourself, but some affiliate networks like Share-A-Sale offer it as an optional add-on.

Tracking numbers should appear on every page of the site. You could also refer to it as a Quote Reference, Bonus Code or Promo Code – but keep in mind that that implies discounts. Even if a customer clicks on a promo banner, she may end up buying regular priced merchandise.

2. Unique 1-800 Numbers and Extensions

Serving a unique 1-800 number for each affiliate is possible, but costly to work out on your own with your Telco. You can also create extension numbers through your existing telephone system. Example:

1-800-555-5555 ext. 64

Extensions are preferred over unique 1-800 numbers for a few reasons. You may have a branded, easy to remember toll-free number like 1-800-FLOWERS which you can’t mess with. Customers may also get a hold of your default toll-free number through a catalog or other print material. And the reference code approach could be significantly cheaper than additional phone numbers. Depending on which affiliate network you are using, you may get assistance in setting up a tracking system.

It’s important that staff are trained to ask for reference numbers. You may also want to dedicate a special phone line for affiliate generated sales. Depending on your sales volume and programming resources, you may credit affiliate sales manually or configure your system to track them automatically.

3. Call Back Forms

Another approach is to use contact forms which contain affiliate ID codes in hidden fields indicating whether the customer inquiry came through an affiliate referral.

4. Email Confirmation and Receipt Retrieval

Once a telephone order is processed, you can send an email confirmation that directs the customer back to the website to retrieve his receipt. So long as the customer is using the same computer that he used to research the purchase, you can recognize through the cookie where the conversion came from.

Email Sign-ups

You may also want to consider email sign-ups as “conversions.” It may make sense that any future conversions through special email offers be credited to the affiliate if the customer first became aware of or interested in your site through an affiliate, and creates an account or opts into your mailing list before the cookie expires.

Of course this would require special programming, and I’m not aware of any companies providing this service or even merchants who are doing this.

Lead Generation

If you typically have a longer sales cycle, you may want to program your CRM solution to track web referrals (entering manually or automated), using similar tracking systems as described above.


No matter what method you implement, it’s a good idea to make it clear on your affiliate program information page that you’re doing something. Savvy affiliates may not even consider merchant programs that don’t.

Of course, you’re also interested in tracking ROI for online referral source and offline marketing (like PPC, organic SEO, direct mail, catalogs etc). Tomorrow we will cover this in part 2 – Telephone Orders and ROI Tracking.